It’s a lonely room, and it looks to be a potentially lonely weekend. Just the right way to cap up what has been a long and rainy week for me, that kind of rain that rations its drops in a way that you can’t help but feel that they were specifically targeted at you. I am inexplicably moody, and while it would be too much to ask for someone to show up in these early hours and clutch my head to their bosom, it wouldn’t hurt to receive a brief call or a short text message, just to find out how I am faring. No, my phone won’t ring, and even if it does, it would probably be MTN looking for a new way to sap my airtime on a regular basis. Then again, why should I be bothered that no one calls? Do I even have the right to be less than happy? After all, I have my 974 Facebook friends and 128 Blackberry contacts to keep me happy with their updates, broadcasts and PMs.
Yes, that’s where we find ourselves in. This is 2014, and it’s all so digital now, even my father has jumped ship from good old print to online newspapers. Samsung, HTC, Tecno, Blackberry, Sony, Apple and illustrious descendants of Nokia have contributed in their own way to a whole new world. It’s all so easy now to reach out to friends and family. From Twitter to Badoo to Tumblr, social networks make sure that our chances of getting bored in the course of the day grow slimmer and slimmer. Communication has been revolutionised, Information from halfway round the world now greets your eyes in a matter of seconds. For a moment, it feels like all that is left is for manufacturers to produce that smartphone which will be able to download Food. The joys of technology are in leaps and bounds……but is it all sweetness and light? Has technology not harmed some of the values we once held dear? A recent experience influenced the direction of my thoughts.
I really liked Angie (not real name). I knew I did in less than a week after we exchanged numbers. We would exchange short witty text messages. I was always so reluctant to hang up when I called. I would visit her small room every other day, not including Sundays where I would be at her place from end of service until the sun went down, only stopping short of sleeping over. Dating was out of the question (she was older), but we really enjoyed each other’s company…..and then it happened: she bought a Samsung Galaxy S4! Calls became few and far between, my visits became almost non-existent, and even on the social networks, chats were short, awkward and devoid of any warmth. My heart sank. Technology had come between Angie and I.
Look around you, and sometimes you just can’t help but feel that Technology has subconsciously estranged friends over the years, loosened the bond between relatives and weakened the one system we Africans held on to so proudly – The Family System. It’s now so hard to make calls, after all, a ping would suffice. We are now extremely lazy in our communication, to the extent that when someone we know is marking their birthday, we only so as far as typing a mirthless “HBD (insert name or pronoun), LLNP” on their Facebook wall. We couldn’t be bothered to go visiting any more, don’t they all live inside that Blackberry Q10? Human touch is rapidly being substituted for technology, the future of our interaction as humans is at stake, and as my friend Adetayo Talabi aptly put it, most people prefer to maintain a relationship with their phones rather than use their phones as a way of maintaining human relationships. Call me a caveman, but I miss the era of posting letters.
If all Technology had done was to batter the family system (in my opinion), I probably wouldn’t be so riled, but it has gone as far as influencing our pattern of living, impacting our confidence, and sometimes even pushing us to create a whole different life online? A girl puts up a picture of herself on a long-sleeved blouse with a long skirt and gets only 10 likes on Facebook, days later she posts photos of herself on a tight-fitting top and equally tight jeans and earns 27 likes, a week later she shows some cleavage on the next photo upload and earns 45 likes. She now lives for the public approval, and if she wants to earn 150 likes, your guess is as good as mine when it comes to how she would probably go about it. We put up what we think is a nice Display Picture, and we grow long faces when minutes have passed and there is no positive feedback from our contacts, of course having someone up the photo as their own display picture would do our ego a whole lot of good. I won’t leave out the ones who assume the status of celebrities just because they have a fairly large following on the 140-character network, or the ones who spew all the raunchy stuff when in reality they are actually virgins.
How about the level of deceit and pretence we have to put up with on these digital streets? Every lady is beautiful on Instagram, much thanks to filters and other photo-enhancing options. If you’ve ever been “cat-fished” (treated to a false representation of a girl’s looks), you’ll know what I’m talking about. The lies extend to spoken words too. Swear, swear that you actually roll on the floor, or that the “laugh wan really tear your belle”. Can you even confidently say that you “laugh out loud”, how much more the fact that “the laugh wan kill you die”? The pretence becomes so much that we type “lol” in response to something that has no aim of evoking laughter.
Originality has also being at the receiving end of uppercuts with the advent of social networking. Someone puts up a joke, you scroll down and you find that those words have gone through four chains of recycling, you may even get multiple broadcast messages. No one wants to lose out in the struggle to be the funniest social network user. Plagiarism is so rife, you post something and you doubt the safety of your ideas, because these days it’s easy to confuse internet access with intellectual depth. Walter Ude, a friend of mine who happens to be a writer (you can check his stuff on www.mymindsnaps.com) had been publishing a fictional series titled “Eze Goes To School”. You could imagine his dismay when he found out that some wanna-be actor had been copying and pasting excerpts from the series on his Facebook page and passing them off as his own, without so much as the courtesy of referencing. Speaking of “copy and paste”, you clink on the links to five different blogs and it’s the same news, the same words, the same pictures, the same blunders. To be a blogger, all you need is a laptop, access to WiFi or a Hotspot-enabled phone with sufficient megabytes, and you are good to go. Look what you’ve caused, Linda!
This digital age has also left us at the mercy of all kinds of information, done a lot to our privacy and leaves us exposed to all kinds of verbal venom. It’s on social networks that we learn about salt being a cure for Ebola, and it’s on social networks that we learn that Jesus has a smartphone and sends out broadcast messages which we have to send to at least 20 people if we want to avoid calamities and setbacks. We jump on the Ice Bucket Challenge without caring to find out what it’s about, we let everyone in on our failing relationships without even letting le/la Boo know what’s on our minds, we all so gladly pour out 20 facts about ourselves and unwittingly spill information that should otherwise be kept private. You take a trip to Nairaland and other huge social forums and you get to check out the thinking pattern of the nation’s active population. You can’t find a discussion on sports, politics or religion which is devoid of sentiments and attacks on personality, rather than facing the real issues. You wonder where the country is heading, you wonder how people can reason objectively to make this place better, and you almost feel like weeping when you see what social networks have exposed you to.
Before I get called out for being so “Medieval”, I’ll have you know that I am a faithful user of all the major social networks. You will probably get to see this via one of those networks. I would wait for you to read, I would plead with you to share it, and I would probably begin to sulk when the day passes and this post has not generated up to 150 views. My applications keep me company, I have access to the world for as long as my battery is alive, but that doesn’t mean that when I weigh the pros and cons, I don’t sometimes battle with the urge to smash this phone.
(Follow on Twitter @Le_Bouquineur)